In 1977, a Mississippi College professor by the name of George Pittman introduced an annual Shakespeare Festival concept to engage students, professors and patrons of the arts.
As the name suggests, the Shakespeare Festival celebrates the famous playwright’s life and works. However, it not just another stereotypical theatre event.
“The Shakespeare Festival is not just a cliché here at MC. It’s not just something we do—naming a theatre event after Shakespeare—just because he’s the best known playwright and that’s just what English and theatre people do.
“Instead, the Shakespeare Festival was an idea of Dr. George Pittman, a man who was passionate about the entire experience of theatre, who valued the texts, the production, and the experience of theatre.
“George and Alicia Pittman saw theatre as fellowship, as an opportunity for people to come together and to experience ideas and literature in real time,” said English professor Dr. Steven Price.
Since the creation of the festival, Pittman’s legacy has become a tradition.
In 2002, Communication Department professor Phyllis Seawright directed Much Ado about Nothing, her first show in the Shakespeare Festival. Having known Pittman throughout her college career, Seawright was ecstatic about becoming a major player in the Shakespeare Festival. She also incorporated some new ideas to further expand the festival.
“We did that show in Jennings Courtyard, which is when we started doing shows over there. Dr. Pittman had always wanted that, and it just hadn’t worked out. I love outdoor theatre, and I had been to a couple of plays outdoors when I went to England. That’s the way Shakespeare wrote it!” said Seawright.
From there, the energy and involvement with the festival has only increased. This year, Seawright is directing a 90-minute rendition of Hamlet.
“[Seawright] wants to celebrate Shakespeare and celebrate theatre and so, of course, we would take on Hamlet, perhaps the grandest, most challenging tragedy one could ever attempt. Her own passion mirrors Dr. Pittman’s,” said Price.
The cast includes MC students Charlie Bell as Hamlet, Belinda Strauss as Ophelia, Cole Angel as Claudius, and Lexie Smith as Gertrude.
The diversity of the cast, the reduced length of the play, and the energy maintained throughout the show all contribute to the uniqueness of this year’s production.
“This is Hamlet, which is the play I thought I would never get to do, but this year, we had the right people…they [are] so talented. And it’s only 90 minutes,” Seawright said.” It has just kept the energy up. It’s a mental hurdle knowing that this play isn’t going to be three hours long, and we know we can do it.”
This year’s production promises to honor the memory of Dr. Pittman, who passed away on New Year’s Day.
“Shakespeare made Dr. Pittman happy, and Dr. Pittman showed us through the Shakespeare Festival how to experience the joy of Shakespeare and all theatre,” said Price.
Join the Communication and English departments in honoring Pittman with performances on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m., Feb. 28 at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m., March 1 at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., and March 2 at 2:30 p.m. For ticket information, contact Dr. Seawright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Ashley Gresset, Contributing Writer